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CSRlive Commentary

05.12.2011 - 10:17PM

Category: Corporate Social Responsibility

Ceres Conference 2011: The world can no longer afford business as usual


By CSRwire Director of Editorial Sarah Peyok

Business as usual, the old economy, single bottom line capitalism -- these are terms, practices and policies Ceres would like to put behind us. But how?

At the Ceres Conference 2011, my eyes were opened to a slew of different approaches to combat the world's most pressing challenges. From securing efficient energy systems to promoting electrified vehicles to raising awareness on conflict minerals and compliance issues, Ceres assembled a remarkable cast of thought leaders and corporate innovators to address the strengths and opportunities associated with each.

Peter Graf said at the opening of the conference, "sustainability is an opportunity" -- and education and communication will lead more opportunity. Actions supporting smart grid development, Millennium Development Goal advancement and a clean energy revolution are waiting to be unleashed. But the power of this "green" revolution is met by a fascinating and fierce barrier: public policy.

Letitia Webster, VF Brands Director of Corporate Sustainability, asked: How do we get on the front end of policy? Well, many would agree embedding sustainability and corporate social responsibility policies into your company's core values is a strategic imperative to facilitate this. Being a good corporate citizen, "doing what is right," as Levi's John Anderson put so simply, is a great start; but what's it really going to take to spark this revolution -- and is the global community prepared, or educated enough, for the implications that will result as the world's leaders continue to drag their heels on rapidly addressing climate change issues?

Even in a ballroom filled with hundreds of voices proclaiming the unified message that the world can no longer afford business as usual, the loudest voice in the room has been and continues to be money. On day two of the event, I sat in dumbfounded awe as Tom Price, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development for Chesapeake Energy Corporation, extended an invitation to visit one of their fracking sites to see "best practices." I mustered all my professional courtesy not to scream out in frustration, "Is this the best we can do?" Natural gas -- in this most crucial of times -- this pathetic excuse of "clean energy" is our next big solution?

Solution? No, but it is an option. And that's the most important take away I can provide from Ceres '11. As Hannah Jones, Nike's VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation, noted three potential scenarios of how the world may come to assess sustainability, the current industry standard appears to be following the "winner takes all" approach. Let the true innovators succeed and reap the rewards and let open sourcing carry the rest. But sustainable options, more and more, will become readily available across all sectors. Craig Lewis, founder of the Clean Coalition, stated, "put them [options] out there like Brazil," referring to the nation's championing of alternative fuels. Be the options good or bad, let consumers pick. In a world of options, consumers might just surprise you.

This leads me to my final point: that while sustainability and CSR initiatives are catching on and the options ensuing lend consumers a vital role in the decision-making process, we need investor support to help navigate and support policy reform on capitol hill. Ford's John Viera dubbed his company's tale of electrical vehicle evolution and CSR collaboration with other multinational companies as "meaningful stories." Let's hope these meaningful stories continue to be told to the policy makers who could most dramatically influence climate reform.

This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.

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